Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sermon Easter 3 2015

Acts 3.12-19
1 John 3.1-7
Luke 24.36b-48

That was from St Luke’s Gospel, but we’ve actually had two readings from Luke this morning, as the Acts of the Apostles is also by him. But, in sequence, Acts comes after the Gospel. So this morning, we need to begin with the Gospel, and then go forward to what the two other New Testament readings have to say to us.
So we begin with Luke’s Gospel, and a ghost. Or, at least, that is what the disciples think. “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
Why did they think that? Well, because most of humanity would have thought that at the time. As would many people today if they saw someone they knew to be dead standing in front of them. Many people are prepared to believe in ghosts, and ghost stories generally hinge on revenge or unfulfilled business.
So it’s not surprising that the disciples are terrified. These disciples had run away and hidden when Jesus was arrested, for fear that they would be caught up in his fate. They had failed to stand up for him or utter a word in his defence. They had deserted Jesus and left him to be handed over to the mob and killed as a public spectacle.
But Jesus has not come for revenge. He has come to bring peace to his disciples. He has come to free them from an imagination closed in by death. He shows them his hands and his feet – the marks of crucifixion. Jesus is showing them quite clearly that he was killed, and that he has conquered death.
Human life, which had been bounded in by death and fear, is suddenly blown open. Suddenly the ultimate reality is not death, but the deathless boundless life of God. And because Jesus lives from the deathless life of God, therefore he has conquered death.
The death of Jesus is not cancelled out by the resurrection. It’s not as though he was saying, it’s alright, I’ve got better, or it didn’t really happen. The crucial thing is that his death did really happen. He shows them his hands and his feet, the marks of his violent death, as trophies. In Jesus, not only human life, but human death, violent death, is taken into the life of God and transformed, raised up into something new and glorious.
The resurrection is an act of creation, as free and gratuitous as the creation of the universe in the beginning. Only the Creator can do this, and in Jesus the Creator and the Redeemer are one.
The resurrection of Jesus opens the minds of the disciples. In God there is no death, and that changes everything. It changes the way we understand the scriptures. The risen crucified one shows us what the scriptures mean. The death and resurrection of the Messiah is not something gone wrong in God’s plan that has been subsequently fixed. Rather, it is absolutely central to the way God is saving us from an imagination bounded by death and a life focussed on violence and revenge.
And Jesus says to the disciples, you are witnesses of these things. And he commands them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. This new life is not something simply shown to us, it is something to be shared.
And so we cut to the passage we heard from Acts. Fifty days later, the Apostles are empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they are “witnesses of these things”, as Jesus said, beginning in Jerusalem.
Peter, their spokesman, addresses the people of Jerusalem and tells them what he and the apostles have themselves come to realise: that they have “rejected the Holy and Righteous One and … killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead”. But, he says, “friends, you acted in ignorance… in this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer”.
Peter is able to bear witness to this because it is his story too. He is the one who denied Jesus three times. He, and the other apostles, right up to the death of Jesus, simply could not imagine that the Messiah would suffer. Their death-bound imaginations could only conceive of a violent Messiah driving out the enemies of Israel. And this was because they could not conceive of a God in whom there is no death.
The resurrection of Jesus has changed all that. Peter bears witness to the new deathless imagination of God. God is inexhaustible life and love, ever pouring himself out without being diminished, bringing life out of death and new creation out of destruction. As Acts goes on, the message spreads. First Peter, then Paul, go to the Gentiles, who also are drawn into the new life of the resurrection.
Beyond the boundaries of Israel, it is the whole of humanity that has been in bondage to sin and death, unable to conceive of the truly vivacious loving-kindness and generosity of God until they meet God at last, the author of life, in the victim raised from the dead.
This is truly a revolution, and it is the only revolution that is good news for all. God has come to meet us in Jesus. Through repentance, that is, through turning round, changing our imagination, we can enter the new understanding of God in whom there is no death. Because God is the true source of our life, there is no need any more to be afraid of death, for even death cannot separate us from God. Indeed, like the wounds of Jesus, our death itself will be raised up and made glorious in the new life of the resurrection.
This is the vision that is set before us. And we in our generation carry on the witness of the Apostles in the world. The resurrection is like a rock thrown into a still pond, the waves spreading outwards as scripture tells the story, from the women at the tomb, to the eleven in the upper room, to the crowd of Jerusalem, then out through and beyond Israel into all the world.
We celebrate that, and meet Jesus anew, in the Eucharist every week. Here Jesus gives his body and blood, his flesh for the life of the world. Gifts of one who died, but who is now alive in the glory of the Father, and who therefore gives himself continually without ever being diminished. Here at the altar above all we enter into the redeemed imagination of God in whom there is no death.
We do this as a community of faith, a gathered minority. The world outside is not indeed without faith, there are people of many faiths, and many more whose faith is present in their longings and yearnings and inklings of something greater and beyond. In our world we bear witness with all and for all to the fullness of faith and life to be found in Jesus Christ.
What will it be like when finally that message, the good news of God in whom there is no death, is all in all? We cannot imagine. As St John says in the second reading today, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

The life that Jesus lives is the life offered to all. The innocent victim of our human violence has been raised to the glory of the Father, and in him all victims, and all victimisers, are called to leave behind their sins and enter into the deathless life of God. To this we are witnesses, in all nations and all times. To this we are witnesses, here and now.

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